Revisiting Site Search, Capturing the Second Term

In further refining our search knowledge to understand how users are interacting with our site, we may want to track the initial referring search from SEO or paid search, and the following site search query (if any). Tracking the secondary search terms provides further insight into how users refine their searches: users may be coming to the site on a very general term, then refining their search on the entry page.

You can use the data you collect to help reduce bounce rates. For every user that refines her search through your site upon entry, there are plenty of users who do not. By applying what you learn from the more determined users to the less determined users, you may be able to lower bounce rates for that segment of traffic. For example, suppose you find that large volumes of traffic come to a page on your site from the term “red cars,” and that many of these users go on to do secondary searches on your site for “sports cars.”

Assess the landing page, and determine if there is any content on the page relevant to “sports cars” (or links to such content elsewhere on your site). If there is, is it prominently displayed on the page? If not, move the content around on the page (or provide cross-links to help the user find her way to the content). Again, I cannot stress enough how effective A/B testing is for improving the usability of your site, not just from a search perspective but from a user perspective, too. You can run A/B or multivariate tests to try out different wordings of section titles, different imagery, or alternate positionings of content on a page.

Tracking on-site follow-up searches to referring search terms can also provide you with insight into what your users see as relevant content. You may discover that you have the wrong page organically ranking for a certain term, and you may need to focus on getting a different page to rank organically for that same term. Understanding the traffic you are getting and the language your visitors use will help you ensure that you are presenting them with relevant content earlier in their experience with your site as opposed to forcing them to find the content through their own clicking and determination.

You will not be able to satisfy all people all of the time, and you will have to learn where and when to draw the line. Otherwise, you will find that you are constantly trying to optimize your content to other sets of terms. To make sure you don’t get stuck in this cycle, use the data you have access to in order to determine which changes will likely improve revenue the most.

You should consider setting two statistical bars. The first will determine what percentage of people arriving at your site from external search go on to use your site search. This may range from 3% to 30%, or more or less; it depends on the content and the users. The second bar to set is the volume of secondary searches you may see on a term before you decide to incorporate content related to that term into your landing page. Where you set this bar will depend on the page itself, your ability to modify the content, and whether you feel the secondary search term is highly relevant to the topic of the page.



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